Category Archives: Personal

Genesis 20

 

 Gracious God, you see the heart, even when we do the wrong thing with what we think are good intentions, You see beyond our actions and use us for good, all for Your glory. Teach us even through our mistakes, more about you and grow us to be more in your image so more people will come to know You, even through our weaknesses. Amen

Genesis 19:1-25

Precious Father, sometimes what you are doing seems incomprehensible and it looks like there is no way out and we are so overwhelmed that we respond in our humanness, in ways that we have trouble understanding  and forgiving ourselves for. But You are gracious and patient to forgive us and set our feet back on the path to lead us safely away from what would destroy us, back to You. Amen

Genesis 18:20-33

How wonderful you are God, that you would desire to have conversation with us. Not just because of Jesus but even as far back as Abraham when he bargained with you about the people of Sodom. You did not rebuke him, you did not shut him down, you saw him and his compassion for people and you responded in a way that makes me think you loved Abraham as he intervened for the people, asking Him not to destroy them if he found as few as ten people who were righteous. You knew the outcome and yet you graciously let Abraham see your compassion. Terrible things happen in this world and we cry out to you sometimes, trying to understand, but we know we can always bring our doubts, our pleas, our hurts, to you and you will listen to us. You are not just the God who sees, but also the God who hears. We thank you God for listening to us, and for your unfailing compassion. Amen

Genesis 17:4-5

Father God, the world names us many things. Some of them stroke our ego. Some break our hearts. The world judges us by its’ standards. We judge ourselves. We name ourselves. We look in the mirror and see flawed, we see a mistake, unworthy of love, an unredeemable sinner. We forget that we are looking in the wrong place and if we turn our eyes to you, you give us a new name. Loved, created in your image, forgiven, free. Help us to remember when we are caught up in that name game that you are the one true God, our Creator, and you have already judged us and sent Jesus to bear our sentence, our debt is already paid. You are the mirror that gives a true image and we can tell the world and our mirrors that they have no say over us. We are precious to You. We belong to You. You see us through the lens of Christ. Teach us to see like that O Lord, our redeemer, our comforter, author and finisher of our faith. Amen

Genesis 16:13-14

O God, when we are lost in a desert and it feels like we are alone and we can see no way, your word tells us that you are the God who sees. You see us when we feel alone, even when it is the people we care about who have turned their back on us.. You make a way when we can see none. What a blessing to know that when we feel no one else sees us – You do. May we always remember that. Amen

Genesis 15:2-5 and Genesis 16:1-6

God you are faithful. You keep your promises. Teach us to be patient and to remember  that things happen in Your time, not ours. Help us to learn when action is needed by us and when we are to leave it in Your hands and just wait and trust. Amen

Genesis 6:14-8:12

Dear God, You who controls the elements, paints rainbows in the sky, sends doves to show us there is safety in you, may we learn to trust that even when you ask us to do things that seem crazy (like building a huge boat in the desert) or things that make others think WE are crazy, that if we are obedient, you will eventually bring us home and we will see that rainbow and remember that you are always always faithful. Amen

March 6 2022 Faith Muscles

March 2, 2022

Old Testament Reading

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Epistle Reading

Romans 10:8b-13

10:8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel Reading

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Sermon

In our reading from Deuteronomy, I think it is helpful to read the very next verse in the chapter. Verse 12  says “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled,)

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this text, I had this picture of people bringing baskets of stuff and leaving it there at the temple. Walking away, maybe thankful they were able to give, maybe grumbling because they had to give. I don’t know.

But the rest of the story is that it was used for a feast for all! The people, the priests, the travelers, the poor, the widow, A tenth..so everyone would be filled. They were to remember what God had done. To remember that they are descended from a wanderer, they were oppressed, they worked hard, they were in an alien land, and the Lord brought them to a place of home. Then they were to throw a party that included everyone to celebrate in sharing the blessing. 

It was kind of like the first Methodist potluck. 

God does not need our tithes. He does not need our fasts. Those are for us. We remember what God has done for us in the past to build up our faith muscles. 

In our reading from Romans, it tells us that the Word is near. A pastor once said that God often puts things that are within our grasp, just out of reach so we will have to stretch a little. We are told that believing in our hearts and confessing with our mouths that Jesus Christ is exactly who He says he is. He is how we are saved and justified. But notice immediately after we are told that, we are told that God does not make distinctions between people in quite the same way we do. 

I was thinking about this reading in terms of our physical bodies. Some of you may have experienced a heart attack. I have been fortunate so far to not have had that experience. But for the sake of discussion, imagine that you are in public, and you are having chest pains. They are getting worse and You come to a point where you think you are going to die. Someone bends down and says “I’m a cardiac surgeon. You are going to be okay.” Then you pass out and when you wake up, there is that man and You believe now, that he is exactly who he says he is because he just saved your life! 

He sits down next to your bed (do doctors still really do that?) and tells you that he was able to repair the damage to your heart but he can tell that you still have some problems. Those problems are going to build and grow and clog up your arteries and eventually, you are going to be right back in the hospital. So, he tells you that you are going to have to make some changes. 

You are going to have to change some of the things you have been taking in. Maybe you smoked. Maybe you didn’t eat right. He tells you that you will need to start eating healthier. More vegetables and less fat. And I don’t think he means eat a few peas and carrots at church on Sunday morning and go back to burgers and fries the rest of the week. You might look like you are doing good on Sunday, but the heart doctor is going to know the truth eventually. So you are going to need to stop taking in so much unhealthy stuff. 

But! He tells you you can fill yourself up with healthy stuff. You need to start taking in the things that will make your heart (and your body) feel better. Every day.

He also tells you that you have been spending far too much time sitting on your backside. If you want your heart to be healthy, you need to get up and do things. Exercise those muscles.

You might resist a bit at first. But if you do the things this healer suggests, you slowly start to feel better. You start to get stronger. And something else happens to you. You begin to trust the doctor more. 

I don’t know how many times I have read a snippet of scripture and thought, wow that’s good. And I stopped. And like the scriptures today, when you hear “the rest of the story” it hits you a little different.

If we had stopped on the first reading we would have thought that God just expected the people to give something up and leave it there. It was only when we read further that we saw it was to be a feast for all.

In Romans if we stop at the first part we think all we have to do is believe and confess. But faith is not a spectator sport and healing sometimes requires us to do our part. If you really believe in the doctor, you learn more about what he wants you to do and you do it and in the process you grow to trust him more. You change.

So when we come to our last reading that is so familiar to all of us. The temptation of Jesus. Trials and temptations are a part of this life on earth. What happens to us if we find ourselves in the wilderness and we start out from a place of weakness? Jesus had fasted and so he was hungry. But He had tools. When satan tempted him, he hit him in the places he thought would be weakest. The first temptation is food for someone who has not eaten for forty days. Man a cheeseburger would be looking good right then. Most of us do not even really remember being hungry. We eat our meals on time but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was just starving, to the point that the smell of food cooking had me salivating and my stomach growling. Satan thought this was a no brainer. But Jesus had an answer. He had not just been reading the parts of the bible that sounded good to Him. He WAS the Word. 

Then satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world at one time. Thinking that power would tempt Jesus doesn’t even fit with my understanding of Christ but if I look at it in terms of Him being moved to compassion because to see all the kingdoms of the world, he would see all of the pain and poverty and oppression. It seems to me that the temptation would be to have the power to fix it.

The last temptation is that God will save You no matter what. 

Can you imagine sitting in your hospital bed and the surgeon walks in and you cram that cheeseburger and fries in your mouth and dare him to say anything. Dare him, that he can’t fix you again. That just seems silly. 

If you continue to live unhealthy and you show up at the same hospital in an ambulance, the surgeon won’t refuse to help you. But the consequences to your life because of your choices? The damage they caused? You still have to deal with that.

So maybe during this season of Lent as we prepare our hearts for Easter, we can be working out spiritually. Feeding our hearts and our minds on all of God’s Word. Building our faith muscles by remembering all that God has done in the past with gratitude and learning to trust and rest in the peace that God has plans for each of us and though we each have our own work to do, Jesus already did the hardest part.  As we do all these things, spending time in prayer, spending time with the Word, serving God in whatever way He puts in your path, my prayer for each of us is that we grow closer to God because He will work in and through our hearts. 

We are living in a time that feels like a constant barrage of bad news. The pandemic, economics, politics, war, We as Methodists, believe in action. We believe in service. Times like these can make us feel overwhelmed. I think of the old time bucket brigades they used to put out fires. What happens when your bucket feels like it is empty? 

We have tools. We have these faith muscles that we have exercised and strengthened. Not just because we have a good coach or doctor or whatever metaphor makes the most sense to you. Because it doesn’t matter how many Sundays we sit in a pew or how good a sermon is preached from the pulpit, if we do not do the work ourselves. And even if we do that work and we have “Popeye” spinach sized faith muscles, sometimes even if we are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, we are going to look down and find our bucket is empty. That is where our community of believers comes in. If my bucket is empty, I can turn to one of you and you will loan me some of your faith. If your bucket is empty, I pray that you know that I will loan you some of my faith.

I spoke a couple of weeks ago on decluttering your heart. If my words today sound similar, there is good reason for that. Lent is a time for preparing our hearts. For me, that means several things. It means spring cleaning in my heart. It means letting God show me the things that need to go. It also means letting God show me what needs to stay and what He wants to fill me with. It means doing the work and for that I need God, and I need you.

I have been in the old testament in my readings since August and the biggest lesson for me and also the biggest challenge for speaking at church is that the message over and over again is the same. We are told that we are to love God and love others…in that order. 

In the coming weeks we will need those spiritual muscles because we will be taking a journey…all the way to the cross. We may lose some things on the way. We may gain some things we didn’t even know we needed. But spoiler alert! The cross is not the end. It’s the beginning! Amen? Amen!

Praying Through the Bible Genesis 1:27

Wonderful creator of the entire universe. You created everything and thought to make us in your image. Help us to remember when we are frustrated and worried and feeling embattled from every direction, that we each carry that spark, that creativity, that incredible beauty that is You, that is Jesus, that is the Holy Spirit, and more than that, help us to remember to find You in each other, so that at the end of each day, we can look on it all and see that it is indeed, good. Amen

Easter 2021 John 20:1:18

John 20:1:18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

If you saw the last time I spoke, it was also from the book of John. I said then that John is all about who Jesus IS. John often shows us this Jesus with word pictures. We see how Jesus interacts with the disciples, with the pharisees, with people who are sick, in need, poor, dealing with demons. To me, John continuing to show us who Jesus is, after Jesus had died, is a clue. Jesus still IS and John is still showing us. And today we will look at Resurrection Day through the eyes of one person.

Imagine what this must have been like.  It has been the worst week of all bad weeks. This Jesus whom the disciples loved, traveled with, their teacher, who had called them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, had been nailed to a cross, between two thieves. They had been through Friday. The bad news. The job lost. The marriage, broken. The unwanted diagnosis. 

The horror of His death and now fearing that they too will be arrested – Saturday. Prayers prayed and what was the answer? Silence. Marriage still broken. No job and bills piling up. No miracle healing for the unwanted diagnosis. Saturday. The time between despair and joy. Yesterday I got to participate in hiding Easter eggs and then watching children run around finding them, watching their excitement as they filled their baskets with something sweet. I was thinking about how appropriate to fill that time of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday with doing something for others because it doesn’t make Good Friday any less horrible, but it fills the time between catastrophe and heavenly response and it takes our mind from ourselves and our sadness and turns it to something or someone else and gives us moments of happiness. Between darkness and light. Between confusion and clarity.

Where are you God? Why don’t you answer? You failed me!  I picture them remembering conversations with Jesus. Rethinking everything in light of His death. Recalling every word they said to Him. Wishing they had asked more questions. Grieving. The unthinkable. Jesus failed. Even the bible doesn’t say much about Saturday, just that guards were posted to watch over the tomb. 

And then while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene ran to the tomb which is probably just a cave in the rocks. Even in darkness, even when heaven seems to be silent, Mary Magdalene runs to the last place she knew Jesus to be. When she finds that the stone has been rolled away from the front of the tomb she runs to tell Peter and the one whom Jesus loved which historians traditionally say is John. They also ran to the tomb and John got there first and bent down to look in. A translation I read said that the word used for “look” in this context, meant he was looking intently. He is looking at the wrappings and he is thinking, trying to figure out why grave robbers would leave the burial linens behind? Peter goes into the tomb and sees the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was rolled up and sitting by itself. They believed and then they went home. 

I remember sitting on a bench with my mother in front of my father’s grave. The funeral was over and everyone had gone home.  It was sad and peaceful and we held hands. We didn’t say much. I knew my mom just needed that few moments. And then we too, went home. I wonder, if sometimes, heaven is silent to give us time. 

Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb in tears and she looked in the tomb and saw two angels where the body of Jesus had been. When she turned around there was Jesus, but she thought he was the gardener! She didn’t recognize Him.

Now a little background on Mary. Luke tells us a little bit. Luke 8:1-2 Tells us: Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

Mark 5:1-5 gives us a picture of what someone with demons might have been like. “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.  He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;  for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”

The tombs may have been very familiar to Mary.

Now Mary is questioning this man that she thinks is the gardener. And Jesus doesn’t yell “SURPRISE!” and he doesn’t say “It’s me, Jesus!” He is kind. He says HER name. He loves her.

You know these days we are all about self. We are supposed to figure out who we are and what is wrong with us and then we can choose from thousands of self help books and try to make ourselves better. Commercials on television, ads on the internet, all offer to help us be the very best that we can be. Because the person we wish to be, never seems to live up to how the world sees us. We are too fat, too thin, too short, too old, too young, too sad, too mad, too happy. Too whatever. Even people who love us and often affirm us can be the source of pain when we think we do not live up to who they think we should be. Our identity is a mixture of who we think we are, and who others think we are or at least what we think they think. It’s very confusing.

But in the moment that Jesus says her name – she has clarity and her identity. Her identity in Jesus. She recognizes him and she sees herself. And she understands much, much, more. 

You see, even though she had followed Jesus and listened to him teaching and personally experienced a miracle, she came to the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus. Even Peter and John, peering into the empty tomb at the linen wrappings, at first, were trying to reason out what could have happened to Jesus body. 

Everything in our upbringing, our hearts and minds, the world, our culture, tells us to shrink Jesus. And you could almost do that. The Christmas story is about Jesus the baby. Jesus’ life is filled with stories and healing and things that are supposed to make us uncomfortable but they are things that can often be reasoned about, explained away. Until the resurrection. That changes everything, once for all and for always.

Both Peter and John and Mary Magdalene came looking for a small Jesus. A Jesus that they could understand. A Jesus that they loved and saw as an extraordinary person. But in the moment that Mary recognized the risen Savior. she was forever changed.

And what a picture this is! The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman, someone who had probably been mentally ill, homeless, not exactly an upstanding member of the church and not only was she the first human to see the risen Jesus, she was the first to be told to go and tell. She was His messenger!

There is a quote by author Annie Dillard that is how I picture Mary Magdalene. “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”

Mary Magdalene was a bell. You are a bell!

What are some of the messages in this?

  1. There is grace. It is not what we do to fix ourselves or make ourselves better, because even if we have the desire, Paul tells us in Romans 7:15-18  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

It is the work of Jesus. Period.

  1. Jesus makes deliberate decisions to do the will of God. He doesn’t accidentally get baptized. He doesn’t accidentally get tested by satan. He doesn’t accidentally call His disciples. He doesn’t accidentally ride into Jerusalem on a donkey during Passover when Pilate was riding in a military procession. Two very different pictures of power. Jesus did not accidentally die on the cross. If we follow this logic, Jesus did not accidentally reveal Himself to Mary instead of to Peter or John. We are saved by the grace and work of Jesus Christ but our growing in faith happens because of deliberate decisions that we make every day, sometimes, every moment.
  2. Jesus gives Himself to all of us. He comes gently. He does not muscle His way in or give us flashing signs. Mary Magdalene couldn’t see Jesus until he revealed Himself to her.  He said her name. If we are to make disciples of all the world, as the great commission says, we have the perfect example of how to go about that. Jesus healed the illness Mary Magdalene was dealing with but He did not stop there. She went to the tomb while it was still dark. She knew Him. When He said her name, she knew Jesus. He knew her. That speaks of relationship, not just a good deed to check off some divine list. 
  3. We understand the baby Jesus. We sort of understand, the living Jesus. We are uncomfortable with the crucified Jesus. We are changed when we recognize the risen Jesus.  Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to Him. It would be human nature to want to keep Him there, to keep Him small. Jesus has bigger things to do. Kingdom things! He sends the Holy Spirit to help us, and once we have heard Jesus call our name, we are changed and we have kingdom things to do as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we deliberately choose to make kingdom choices.
  4. And last, It is Sunday. Without the resurrection, we as a people, might survive our Good Fridays. We might deal with our Saturdays, no matter how long they last. But when we believe, we as people of faith, have the hope that Sunday will come. 

Today, Jesus is risen! Everything is different. We see a cycle of birth, life, and death. Jesus defies our little cycle and says, wait. There is more. Hold on to hope through the silence. Jesus had a Saturday. Heaven was silent. But when the answer came it was eternal. 

Today a homeless person with a dodgy past and some mental issues, could come up to you and say, I have seen the Lord. The tomb is empty! He is not dead! He is risen! Today, you with your own imperfections, might be the one who is the living Jesus, for someone else because the power of the Holy Spirit is in you! Today, Jesus is saying your name. He loves you. Do you recognize him?

Prayer

Father, open our eyes that we would see You when You are standing in front of us, no matter what form You come in. Open our ears so that we recognize Your voice when You call our name. Fill us with the Holy Spirit because we know that tomorrow, Easter is over. The world is noisy, clamoring for our attention. Many of us are in the midst of our own Saturdays and need reminders of Easter. We need help to make those deliberate decisions to follow You. Help us also to see the Mary Magdalenes and all of those who pass by just in the corner of our vision, the ones that Jesus would not only call by name, but would call friends. Help us to see every single day, that here is where we practice faith, a rehearsal for Your kingdom. We are so grateful for your love, for your grace, for joy, for the work You did on the cross that we never tire of telling Your story, of learning more about You, of singing of Your glory, of being Your friends. We serve a risen, living savior. Amen.

In the Evening

Sometimes when the problems of the world
are too big
all we can do is climb a tree
and bear witness to the light
perched on a skeleton with feet sunk
in the mud
we can tiptoe out to the very edge
toes clutching tiny limbs
where wings can spread
and let the sun paint us asleep

Photo by Nelda Zamir

Lake Evening

as the trees hug the shore of the chilled lake
a lone tree bears witness to the sinking sun
twigs reaching for the last rays of warmth
orange fades to gray, blue fades to black
rooted and nourished, drinking deep from rain to lake
to tree to sky and round and round like earth and seasons
spinning sun to night and come the morning
all begins anew

Photo by Nelda Zamir

Grief and Healing

Matthew 14:1-21

At that time Herod the ruler[a] heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[b] because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Though Herod[c] wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus was grieving over the death of John. There are so many lessons in this text but the one that hit me was that even in His grief, Jesus had compassion for the people. When His disciples, who knew He was grieving wanted to send hungry people away, Jesus asked them to do something I believe He asks us to do – feed them. When the disciples could only see what they did NOT have, Jesus walked them through it. He prayed. He took what little He had and put it in God’s hands to make it not just enough, but more than enough. The text also spoke to me personally, that even Jesus experienced grief. He wanted to go off and be alone with it. But, He continued to be in relationship with people and continued to serve. A little part of me thinks He was telling us this is how to do grief. This is how to walk through it and not get pulled under it. I pray that we can listen to that advice.

When bad news comes
like a family member has lost their head
looking for solitude is an acceptable response
grief is heavy and no one can help you carry it
it is invisible
and only those close to you know
that you are carrying a heavy rock
and even they may make demands on you
and while you may think
them unfair
you can’t help others with your hands full of rock
so you set it down and turn your face
from stone to flesh
and you fill a need
and take a step
heal a pain
another step
And find you have left the stone behind
it’s still there, just not taking all your strength
you realize your hands are empty
so you pray
and someone gets fed
someone gets changed
it might be you.

December 29, 2019

Light Wins

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.

2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

I read the preaching notes on the Methodist Lectionary site. I often read the notes, search the internet, read and reread the scripture for the week. I pray.

This week one of the things that stood out to me was this and I quote “There is certainly no basking in the Christmas glow in Matthew’s Gospel text this Christmastide Sunday. With a dream of warning, Joseph and his new family become refugees, fleeing an oppressive ruler who wants to kill the child. For Matthew, it is a fulfillment of a prophecy; for Joseph and Mary, it is a moment of terror. For the little town of Bethlehem, it is a tragedy of historical proportions. Any time disaster strikes, natural- or human-originated, questions arise.”

I thought about the refugee situation in our country. In fact, the entire political climate. I’m not going to speak about my opinions about politics – don’t worry. 

I thought more about the anger I have seen between people who were friends, even family. People even remaining absent from church because they disagreed with the pastor or speaker. 

And I thought about what it must have been like at the time of Jesus birth and the times as He grew.  I don’t know a lot about the history of the time but we all know that Jesus was born into a country occupied by Rome. People had been taxed beyond what even Rome required by corrupt tax collectors who were there own people. So the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The Pharisees and Sadducees had made church into a place where you had to obey a ridiculously long list of rules or you couldn’t fit in. Life was pretty unfair in general. 

In the middle of all that unfairness, a miracle happens and salvation comes into the world.

So here we are, the week after Christmas. We’ve eaten too much, maybe you have already taken the tree down. The presents have been opened and some may have already been returned and exchanged. Mountains of wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes have been thrown out. Family that came for the holidays may have returned home by now. Maybe there was drama. Maybe there was loneliness. Maybe it was a wonderful time but now that it’s ended, there is a little bit of after-holiday blues.

Maybe a tragedy has already happened and the joy of Christmas has already turned into worry or grief.

So the question that wanders through all of this is…what next? What do we do now?

As I read Matthew, I pictured Joseph, praying to the God who charged him with the responsibility of taking care of Mary and Jesus. The carpenter has left the comfortable known behind and whatever he might have expected being the husband of Mary, Mother of God, it probably wasn’t this. We aren’t told what he is thinking so anything I could come up with is just a guess. 

What happens after Christmas?

Have you ever stepped out in faith and fallen flat on…your face?

What do you do next?

Isaiah gives us an idea of how to keep going when the going gets decidedly NOT fun.

“I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

We tell the stories of how God has been faithful in the past. There are two things I think we need to catch here.  Telling the stories reminds us and reconnects us to our source. Now telling the stories to yourself might be helpful but…

I remember the Halloween my granddaughter turned three. She had a dinosaur costume and was so excited.  The neighborhood her other grandmother lived in made a very big deal of Halloween. Every house decorated up and adults in costumes handing out candy. We set off walking and one house had a huge blow up spider with glowing eyes. She had a tight grip on my hand and as we walked by she kept repeating “it’s not scary. It’s not scary.”

Telling herself was important but I have a suspicion that the tight grip on my hand also helped.

If we tell these stories to each other and listen to the stories of each other, then we are not alone. It takes at least two! We are to do this together! We are no longer carrying fears of the dark, the battles against the tyrants, or the pain of our failures…alone. It’s not scary. It’s not scary.

There are times when we need to be alone in the wilderness. Times we need to be alone with God. But the story of Jesus’ birth has more than one character. Can you imagine watching an entire movie with just one character? I like to imagine the journey with Mary and Joseph and the new born baby. Did they speak of their dreams? Of their worries and fears? Did they encourage each other? 

Did they speak of their memories of what God had already done to keep their faith alive and prepare them for trusting in what God would do next?

This piece of scripture from Matthew, reminds us that from the very beginning, the road that Jesus travels is a constant back and forth of God’s promises and human resistance. Jesus very existence is both the living presence of the promises of God and a constant irritant to those in power.

Matthew 2:13-23 is a series of dreams that give direction and fulfilled prophecies, that anchor three narrative movements – Fleeing to Egypt, The slaughter of innocents, Back home in nazareth. The book of Matthew is written primarily to the Jews so the references to fulfilled prophecy connected this Jesus with the faith they had known all of their lives. 

On the flight – Hosea 11:1 says “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” A prophecy that spoke of the people of Israel now implies that Jesus in a way, now embodies the children of Israel. He is both the one who carries and the one who fulfills the promises made to Israel by God. This story of flight would also have resonated with the ancient Jews as similar to the story of Moses and the liberation of Israel from slavery.

The slaughter of the innocents parallels the execution of Jewish male infants at the hands of Pharaoh. Pharaoh and Herod both caused death but they also both were unable to prevent the birth of a powerful leader.

The last prophecy Matthew mentions is that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. There seems to be a bit of a problem with this one because there is no specific prophecy that we can point back to that states this and all I can find is speculation about either a lost source or possibly sayings of multiple prophets.

Matthew paints a picture of a prophetic path and while God speaks to Joseph in dreams, connection for the Jews who were hearing Matthew’s gospel, comes from memories of faith stories.  For the ancient people, history was not a timeline like we find in a social studies book where one event follows another. For them, history was cycles and they would be more likely to believe when they could remember hearing something that resonated in the past.

My grandmother was from Scotland and every year on New Years Eve, just a few moments before midnight, my dad would step outside. As soon as the clock struck twelve he would come back in. He would be carrying three things. A piece of coal wrapped in an old handkerchief, money in his pocket, and something to eat. The tradition for the Scottish New Year, called Hogmanay Night was to “first foot” the house. The first person to enter the house with these three things, guaranteed warmth, prosperity, and food for the coming year. The only year my grandfather forgot we had the beginning of the depression. 

This made for a great story but it was just a story until you got to the part about the depression and then…well we still keep this tradition. Just in case. While I was not alive for the depression, my parents and my grandparents were and I heard the stories and I saw how living through the depression affected how they lived. They were frugal. They didn’t waste things. Scraps and worn out clothing became quilts, Shoes were repaired, not replaced. When you did get rid of a piece of clothing you cut the buttons off to re-use on something else. I have my grandmother’s button box and it is a treasure. I have memories of stringing fancy buttons and sorting them by color when I was a child. The depression was made more real for me because of how I saw it play out in the lives of my family.

So what do we do now? We make the stories resonate for a new generation. We tell them to remind ourselves of who and where we come from and how the great cloud of witnesses that we have cheering us on from heaven, ran the race. We do our best to live them out to make them more real for those who come after us.

Tyranny and corruption and divisiveness and poverty have always been a part of our world. But…so have dreams and memories and stories. Darkness came into the world with sin but the hope that we have in the promises of God  fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings a light that tells the darkness that ultimately it will not win and Matthew might have added “but what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled.”

I would like to share a poem with you. A friend of mine had taken a picture of the very beginning of a winter sunrise in February of 2013 and I wrote this poem from that picture. It’s called Light Wins.

If ever proof were needed

the darkness should have heeded

for even as the sun goes down

now mostly hidden by the ground

of other lands and other towns

the smallest flicker cuts the black

and rises far beyond the trees

and though the clouds would freeze

and space encroach upon the day

a flaming sky gives argument

sun has the final say

We are disciples, followers of Jesus Christ and it is our purpose to proclaim the good news as a community of faith, to carry the light forward!

The world will continue to produce pharoahs, herods, tax collectors, pharisees. But they die. Only Jesus was, is and is to be. He is the way, the truth, the life, and the light of the world. And light wins!

Amen.

Advent 2019

I am unqualified to stand here. I am not a pastor. I have not studied at seminary. I have only taken a few college classes – never officially enrolled. I graduated from high school and took some classes at a vocational technical school. 

And yet – here I am. 

I turned 65 this year and probably should let singing and preaching be for a younger generation. It’s their time – mine is passing. 

And yet – here I am.

Most of you didn’t know me until I started coming here. There was no meeting where a discussion was had, a consensus was reached, and a vote was taken to affirm that I should be a lay speaker.

And yet – here I am.

The only reason I am here speaking on a Sunday morning is because I said yes. 

John the Baptist was a wild and wooly guy that lived in the wilderness. He wore animal skins and ate bugs. 

Mary was a child. Probably poor, and lived in a small town. 

Joseph was a carpenter – he built things with his hands. 

Herod was a bit wackadoodle, power hungry, insecure, confused about his religion. 

The wise men were more than likely dream interpreters from Persia.

The baby who would grow to be the savior of the world, was born in the downstairs area of a home – might even have been a cave, where there was a sterile area with a physician and a soft baby cradle…No!  It was the area where the animals were kept. 

If we were to get together and decide that we needed a plan to save the world – even if by some crazy stretch of the imagination we decided that God should come and live among us, would our plan look even remotely like the one God made?

Would we form a nominating committee and maybe decide that maybe a retired police officer would be the dad because he has been in law enforcement and this child is very important and would need someone who could protect him.

Who would be the mom? We might want someone who would be a good cook because we want this child to grow up healthy and strong. They would need to be someone who has been going to church all their lives.

Where would this happen? We would need to appropriate funds to build a house fit for the savior of the world. He should have his own room and the best computer and an area for study because he will need to learn all 613 of those Levitical laws.

How would we point to this event and this person? Would we post it all on social media? Have a big conference/concert? Give out free prizes and wear matching tee shirts?

Maybe we would never get this whole thing out of the planning stage because we might not be able to agree on who is qualified to play the important roles in this endeavor or who should chair which committee. I’m afraid if we were the plan makers things would be hopeless!

I don’t know about you but I have a really difficult time with the unknown. I like to know what is coming. I want to prepare. I want to make sure the house is clean, any food preparation that can be done ahead should be done, laundry needs to be caught up.

I like to leave the house earlier than necessary in case something happens to cause a delay. Being unprepared makes me anxious.

But maybe during advent, I need to be reminded that God works through the most unlikely to accomplish what we cannot even imagine and that sometimes preparing doesn’t mean doing things. Sometimes it means just being still. Waiting and listening with our hearts. 

We hear Christmas songs telling us that Santa knows if we’ve been bad or good and that he is making a list and checking it twice. As children we go sit on his lap and tell him our wishes. Come to think about it, if humans designed this whole salvation thing – the savior would probably be a lot more like Santa Claus. There are a lot of reasons why this would be a bad idea but one glaring flaw is that with Santa and the secular idea of Christmas, not all children will receive and it will have nothing to do with them being bad or good. Also it would seem that Santa’s only interaction with the story is to keep a list and then visit people one time a year. We invented Him. 

Joseph wasn’t uniquely qualified to raise the son of God. Mary wasn’t the perfect typical neighborhood kool-aid mom. (But they both were obedient – even when things didn’t seem to make any sense – they said yes!) The wise men were not local pastors who would be part of Jesus’ spiritual education. The shepherds lived out with their sheep which means they would not have been able to keep all the Jewish purity laws so technically they were unclean and yet an angel appeared to them to tell them the good news!

This whole plan designed by God does not make sense by our human standards.

In fact – it is completely unrealistic that Jesus even survived to adulthood! Born in a straw-filled place where animals sleep to a mother who was little more than a child and to an earthly father who by all rights should have shunned the mother for being pregnant before the wedding. He was hunted by a powerful man that wanted to kill him and as a tiny baby went for a long donkey ride to another country. He once was left at a temple in a city where he knew no one and was stuck there until his parents figured out he wasn’t with them and journeyed back to find him. 

He did survive though and then He was enthroned in a palace and whooped the Romans all the way back to Rome so His people would no longer be oppressed and his people worshipped him and they all lived happily ever after…right??  um no. 

That is how the story might have ended if we humans had written it. 

I don’t usually get to speak on Sundays that are so close together but today I want to refer back to the last Sunday that I spoke. There was part of the scripture reading that I want to mention.

Matthew 24:44 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The author of the birth story has thoughts and ways so much higher than ours and He wrote a salvation story that is nothing like a plan we could come up with. No wonder Mary said “My soul magnifies the Lord!” No wonder Isaiah talks about a desert that is not only now green and flowering but it has become a swamp! With a highway for God’s people to travel on! 

And then? Jesus turned the preconceived ideas of who is first, who is righteous, who is worthy, and what God desires from His people, completely upside down! 

So back to the scripture about the house being broken into. We think that being robbed is a bad thing. But what if this year, instead of a Christmas wish list, we made an advent list? What if we ask Jesus to rob us of the things that place a wall between us and each other and between us and Him?

What if we ask the Christ child who according to our church calendar is about to be born, live, suffer, die, defeat death, ascend and will come back for us…to prepare our hearts for that time when He returns. 

Jesus could break into our lives and steal our preconceived ideas of what it means to be qualified because sometimes like the invalid by the pool of Bethesda, that just means picking up our mat and walking. 

-To steal from us our ideas of who is deserving and who isn’t so that we can remember that grace is not a gift you receive for being good. Its given to us in our weakness so the weaker you are? Guess what! The more grace you receive! 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” 

-To rob us of our judgmental thoughts about suffering and sin. Jesus suffered and he was perfection so help us to have understanding and compassion for each other when suffering happens because as scripture says “Hebrews 2:10-11 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,

We could ask Jesus to take from us our need to be right and certain of what we think we know so we can be surprised and delighted by a God who has always been faithful and hear the Christmas story fresh as though we are hearing it for the first time. 

John 1:1 says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Matthew 4:4 says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” Stories are made of words. The Christmas story is a story of how the WORD came and dwelled among us and became part of our story as we respond and participate in this wonderful mystery of the faith story of the world. Now THAT is something to try to wrap your head around! 

No wonder John the Baptist sat in prison and pondered everything the messiah was doing and asked “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

So this season of Advent, read the story in your bible, sing the story in church, and go out and tell this story of hope to the world. Better yet, live out this story in your little part of the world. No animal skins or honey and locusts required….

Rejoice! This is good news! Amen!

First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (UMH 845)
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The scripture readings today speak with hope of the second coming of Christ. They say be prepared. Isaiah looks ahead to a time when all nations will turn to the Lord and they will learn war no more. When we will change our weapons that destroy life and turn them into things that will produce and sustain life. They tell us to learn about the Lord and walk in His light. They speak of who Jesus is and tell us to be like Him. 

The people of the time were expecting Jesus to return any minute and when that didn’t happen, they started to lose hope and they got caught up in the day to day living. Even today, for us Christmas can be a joyful time and yet, there can be sadness. We have experienced loss. We are so busy. We sometimes spend money on gifts that we can’t afford and spend the rest of the year paying for them. For some – there is no money for gifts and so Christmas becomes a time of looking in a store window at something that we can never have. Hopeless. We cling to memories of Christmas past. Change is an ever present part of this life. Reading about the second coming of Christ seems odd when our calendar tells us He hasn’t even arrived the first time and yet…We don’t usually go on a trip without having a destination in mind. 

Advent is a time of preparation and expectancy. We are beginning a journey. We know how the journey ends as far as the church calendar is concerned but a lot happens between the manger and the cross and resurrection. For Jesus, and for us. 

Beginning a journey can be exciting but it can also make us a little anxious. Did we pack the right clothing? Do we have good tires? Are our directions correct? 

All along this journey there are angels. Jesus conception was announced by an angel. Angels spoke to Mary, and to Joseph, and to the shepherds in the fields.

When I was little – in fact all of my growing up years, my grandmother had an angel tree topper. Not the beautiful ones you see in the stores now with the brocade robes and all of the gold and silver. Gorgeous and elaborate fancy angels. No, this angel was made out of a kind of cream colored hard plastic. She had a pretty face and this long soft white hair that always looked a little rough after being packed away for a year. She held a wand with a star at the end of it. When she was placed at the top of the tree there was always a blue light at the tree top so that it was inside the body of the angel and she had this soft blue glow. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Of course she probably looked a little more like Glenda the good witch in the Wizard of Oz than an angel. 

We all have special memories of our past Christmas journeys. I also always knew which gifts were from Grandma because she always wrote “From Santa Clause” on the tag. Claus being spelled c l a u s e…

Years after my grandmother passed, I found an angel exactly like the one from her tree at a garage sale, and I bought her.  For years she sat on top of our Christmas tree until my family let me know they thought she was tired and tacky looking and when I downsized the tree after the kids were grown, she went away.

We see angels depicted in pictures as sweet little chubby cherubs or terrifying warriors, but always with wings. I have often wondered about that. I mean, if you are an angel and God wants you to go somewhere do you really need wings? But that’s not really the point..just one of those questions that distract me. When a family goes on a journey there is always that one annoying kid that is constantly asking questions like “Are we there yet?” That would be me. 

Often when an angel appears to humans in the bible, the first thing they say is don’t be scared. I always thought this meant that angels were probably more the scary warrior type than the cute cherub. I mean, if a cute pudgy little baby with wings appeared to you, they probably wouldn’t need to tell you not to be afraid. 

Have you ever actually stopped being afraid because you were told NOT to be scared?? What a suggestion! I wish I had thought of that! Just stop! It’s kind of like telling me to calm down when I’m upset about something. Not only will it not work but I probably will be MORE upset. 

The world can be such a scary place and with twitter and Facebook and all of the internet – we get the news (especially the bad news) almost instantly. We are bombarded with bad news and we get anxious. We now lock our church doors once the service starts and we are just more aware of our surroundings. 

I know we sometimes tend to think of the Bible as an instruction manual on how to be more righteous and we are told not to fear in the bible – a lot. Not exactly 365 times as some would have you think. That was a thing shared repeatedly on Facebook and because I always wonder about that kind of thing I did some research. nope. Not a thing. But still – the bible says “do not fear” a lot of times. And it made me wonder why. When the bible tells you something repeatedly it usually means it is pretty important, right? 

Journeys can be scary. I think about Paul. Paul said in Acts 20 that everywhere he went people wanted to kill him or hardship awaits. That would kind of change your perspective on travel wouldn’t it? But he didn’t stop. In fact in 2nd Corinthians 12:10 He says that for Christ’s sake, he delights in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

So maybe when the angel said to a person “Do not fear” it was not a command or instruction but instead some kind of angelic power like using the force in the Star Wars movies “These are not the droids you are looking for” (If any of you have not seen the Star Wars movies I apologize.) But when a Jedi used the force – poof – the bad people would walk right past those droids like they weren’t even there. So maybe when the angel said don’t fear – poof, whoever they were speaking to was not afraid. Okay that’s a little weird but you get my point.

John says that perfect love casts out fear. So maybe when God sent an angel to us with a message, they came in the form of this powerful love of God which made the fear disappear.

While we are asking questions, why would fear be the thing angels would tell us not to do. If the angel has the power to change something in us like removing fear, why wouldn’t they say something like don’t be selfish! Or don’t be mean! 

Maybe because God knew that the one thing that would totally close off our mind from hearing the message from Him would be fear.

So today as we set out on our Advent journey I want to talk a little about this fear thing. 

How can fear be the thing that keeps us from hearing and acting on God’s message? An example that might show us what fear can do is the difference between Joseph and Herod.

Herod was a Roman appointed king of Judea. He was good friends with Mark Anthony, the Mark Anthony who was in love with Cleopatra. He built fortresses and palaces and in general made the country more prosperous but he was mentally unstable and as he got older he became more unstable. He ended up murdering his wife, her sons and her brother. All together he had eight wives and 14 children. His physical and mental health had deteriorated by the time of Jesus birth. He had lost favor with Augustus and tried to commit suicide. When the wise men told him a prophecy about a king being born, he was afraid. 

He sent them to find out more and he said he wanted to know where this king was so he could worship him. When the wise men didn’t come back and tell him how to find the baby he arranged to kill all the babies in the land because underneath it all, he was afraid of losing his power. He was terrified of a little baby!

Joseph was a carpenter. A peasant. He had no power. The bible says he is a just man. When he found out Mary was expecting a baby, he didn’t pitch a public fit and he didn’t just dump her. He thought about the situation and he was planning to divorce her quietly. Even though he might have felt hurt and betrayal and according to the law of the time, he could have publicly shamed her, but he had compassion for her. While he was thinking about all this, an angel showed up and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, that the child was from the Holy Spirit. Later an angel would appear to him in a dream and tell him not to be afraid and to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod. Both times, Joseph was able to act without fear and listen to what God wanted him to do. We know very little else about Joseph from the bible. 

Herod had power and was fearful. Joseph had no power but was fearless!

Every Christmas of my life, there have been nativity scenes. The town I grew up in was very small. It had one main street and packed dirt paths on the walk to what we called town, not sidewalks. Every year we would bundle up and walk to town to look at the Christmas lights and the last stop would be the nativity that was nearly life size. I have a ceramic one at home that a friend made for me years ago. I have seen beautiful wooden and porcelain nativity scenes and each one  has Joseph in it. Every church nativity program casts a boy to play Joseph, Mary’s husband. Because Joseph was not afraid to do what the angel told him to do, Jesus was born according to prophecy and also kept safe from the consequences of the fear that consumed a powerful old man. 

None of the nativity scenes we set up in our homes at Christmas and none of the Children’s Christmas programs we have watched or helped put on over the years have had Herod in them. Herod is a footnote in history.  Joseph has a permanent part in the story of the culmination of God’s plan for our salvation. 

There is a quote that says Herod’s fear caused death. Joseph’s fearlessness protected life.

Maybe you have some Herod’s in your life. Maybe today because of Jesus, you can look at those things or people or situations that seem to have power over you and your life and point your finger and say “footnote” because the powerful, fearful Herod’s of the world are forgotten, but stepping out in faith and saying yes to God changes the world (and you!) forever.

I believe in angels. They are all around us. Maybe they are sitting next to you in the pew this morning. They certainly are sitting next to you holding your hand and praying with you in the hospital. Maybe they come by to visit you and bring cookies when you are recovering. Maybe they cook a meal or give you a hug. They are messengers of love and they say over and over again – don’t be afraid. They speak louder than any footnote and they change our world every day in quiet little ways. 

As we start our advent journey, let’s pack light but don’t forget the angels that travel with us. Our Jesus family that makes this journey with us and strengthens our faith when the Herods of the world have bruised us.. 

Let’s not forget the inexperienced girl who said yes to what an angel told her and got to rock the one who would die for our sins in her arms. Don’t forget a poor carpenter who made the decision not to be afraid and built a family that would nurture the one who would save us all. 

Most important, remember the baby in the manger, the one who was planned for and promised from the first moment sin came into the world to restore us back to the garden. 

Do not fear. Get ready. There is hope! God has a plan!

Christmas is not the destination. Christmas is the starting place.